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The Art of Data-Driven Strategy

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen on Wed, Apr 24, 2013

art of data driven researchWith ever more crowded industries, and customers’ ever-growing access to information that guides decision-making, if ever there was an era where the customer came first, this is it. Landing on a strategy that will delight current and prospective customers requires getting to know them both qualitatively and quantitatively. And herein lies the challenge. This kind of insight takes time and money and often gets pushed off or short-changed.

It’s true that data should not be the only driver of your strategy. Indeed, as Steve Lohr of the New York Times recently wrote: Listening to the data is important…but so is experience and intuition. After all, what is intuition at its best but large amounts of data of all kinds filtered through a human brain rather than a math model?

Taking these words to heart, strategy is both an art and a science. At some point, asking for the umpteenth model of sensitivity analysis simply isn’t productive to decision-making. On the flip side, building a strategy based on anecdotal evidence from the sales team (for example) will usually result in more pain than gain, financially and operationally.

Data will ground your thinking in facts. Intuition and experience will guide your thinking on why the facts are what they are and how to take action.

I often find that data is at its most valuable when used to:

  • Prioritize. Having data around which questions or problems are most important to address and which opportunities are most attractive is imperative to prioritizing which paths or solutions a company chooses. Even one data point can have big impact: when one of our clients learned that 50% of its online directory was inaccurate in some way, the decision around which customer-facing channel to focus on first was easy to make.

  • Challenge assumptions. Without an outside-in approach, companies are making big bets on assumptions about the market and their customers. An insurance company I once worked with wanted to extend their brand into what seemed to be an adjacent product space from their point of view. However, customer research revealed that customers actually didn’t trust that company—or any insurance company—to manage this new line of business well.

  • Shore up confidence. Whether launching a new product or service, redesigning a brand or moving into an adjacent market, a new strategy needs to be sold up the executive chain. Data, from the mouth of the customer, not only reduces risk in decision-making but helps sell the decision internally. Bringing the outside in changes people’s minds.

How well do you apply the science of data to the art of strategy?

Jennifer von Briesen is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin Bailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies.

See how CMB and the South Street Strategy Group helped SunTrust use a customer-centric approach to inform brand strategy, improve marketing tactics, and drive organizational  transformation. Read the case study.

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, growth and innovation